Student life in Vietnam for two exchange students is a huge contrast to their usual lives in Melbourne.
Tess Johnson and Sam Gilfedder, completing professional communication degrees with RMIT University, usually work around 25 hours a week to support themselves financially.
“I work for the Brotherhood of St Laurence (charity) in corporate relations doing fundraising and administration,” Tess said.
“I appreciate not needing to work while I’m in Vietnam – it gives me time for activities that help me understand the culture here.”
In Melbourne Sam works in a call centre for ME Bank, helping customers with inquiries about bank accounts and loans.
“Studying in Vietnam for a semester is a refreshing change from my work routine over the past two or three years,” he said.
But neither is idle.
As part of their studies in the Making Media course they developed a newsletter for international students at RMIT Vietnam, covering everything from renting accommodation to tips on getting around HCMC and travelling to the beautiful city of Da Lat.
The two students gained Australian Government grants for the exchange. Tess, originally from Melbourne, is majoring in journalism and Sam, whose family lives in Canberra, is specialising in public relations.
One of the big eye-openers for them in studying at Saigon South is the compact nature of the campus compared with Melbourne – and the recreation facilities.
Sam described it as “a more homely feel”.
“Melbourne is very convenient but it can feel overwhelming,” he said.
“Saigon South is smaller, the natural environment is good and the calm atmosphere is beneficial. You don’t have the feeling you’re in a big bustling city.
“There are a lot more amenities such as cafes and restaurants too. It’s nice to be in an environment where just teachers and students go – and it’s affordable.”
But the fact that HCMC is a city of nine million people with the attendant traffic problems is inescapable – as Sam found out in the first few minutes out of the airport.
“I took 46 minutes to cross my first road,” he said.
“I stood there with my 20kg suitcase and a backpack and looked at four lanes of traffic.
“It was 10pm, very dark and it was scary; the bikes were crazy and I didn’t know what to do.
“But I’ve gotten a lot better at it since then!”
Story: Sharon Webb